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Canning Tomatoes (as easy as I could make it)

Okay, so despite a previous attempt being enough to resolve me to never do it again, I was seduced by the $13/half-bushel canning tomatoes at the local farmstand, so I took the plunge and tried it.

Last time I did tomato sauce, which involved endless food mill time  (it was my first time using the food mill–I do not like it, Sam I am! Glad I only paid $12 on ebay for the thing, because I really dislike using it!) and even more endless cooking down time, and which in the end still didn’t give me the result I wanted.  So this time I took it easier and just did plain old Chunky Canned Tomatoes.  Nothing added except a little lemon juice and red wine vinegar (because I ran out of lemon juice).  I’ll do the adding at the other end, when I cook.

PickYourOwn.org has very good and easy directions for tomato canning, as do a few more places–at this point I feel comfortable enough canning that I do improvise slightly as long as I make sure safety measures (long enough processing time, sufficient acid content) are followed.  So here’s what I did; total 2  hours with kids scurrying around and one barfing dog to deal with during that time, and the last 45 minutes was just waiting for the jars to process. The reason I improvised was that I wanted something bigger than diced tomatoes but which would already have cored and seeded the tomatoes before canning them.  And I wanted something that would have the tomatoes packed in their own juice, not water or juice-purchased-elsewhere.  And trust me–this method makes a LOT of its own juice!

Jenn’s Easy Canned Tomatoes

Put the canning pot on to boil FIRST.  It’s a big sucker, and if you have a gas stove, it’ll take forever.

Put 7 or so quart canning jars in the dishwasher AT THE SAME TIME.  And lightly simmer the lids, and follow whatever jar prep processes you like to follow.

Washing the tomatoes: Since these were not organic (even though they were local), I did definitely want to wash them.  I filled half the sink with soapy water and the other half with clear.  Swished them around in the soapy water, scrubbed them a bit, shifted them to the clear water.  Rinsed out the soapy half and filled it again with clear cold water. (I didn’t use much soap; if you’re worried about rinsing, hey, rinse more!)

At this point, you’ll want to have ready:

  • Big pot of boiling water
  • Big cutting board and sharp knife
  • Sink or MASSIVE bowl with cold water and ice cubes
  • bowl for tomato skins and stems
  • bowl for seeds and juice (what you’re discarding or doing something else with)
  • bowl or pot for tomato pieces (what you’re canning)
  • Lots of cleaning rags or paper towels.
  • Clothes you don’t give a crap about, or a good apron, or both

When the water’s at a full boil, put as many tomatoes in as you can reasonably fit and let them stay for maybe 3 minutes. (I went 5 once for a batch and it didn’t hurt anything.) During this 3 minutes, add a bunch of ice cubes to the clear cold water sink. Then remove the tomatoes to that icy water immediately to keep them from cooking more.

At this point, honestly, I just used the tomato-skin water as my canning water, but if you chose to you could put new water on to boil right about now.

At this point the skin should slide off easily. Cut the stem end off, slide the skin off, and cut the tomato horizontally in half. Squeeze the seeds and inner juice into a separate bowl, and then squish the tomato pulp itself into your pot. (Oddly, this isn’t as gross as it sounds.) Continue this process until your pot is full or you run out of tomatoes. (I didn’t use my biggest pot and needed two batches. Live and learn.)

Put the pot of tomatoes on the stove and heat, and let it simmer for just a few minutes.

Into each quart jar, put a tablespoon or two (opinions vary–go with 2.) of lemon juice.  This removes any doubt about the acid level of your tomatoes. Spoon tomatoes into quart jars, stir or “bubble” them down to make sure you don’t have air pockets,  and add a little more juice from the pot as needed to fill them to the right head space level.  I got just under 7 quarts of tomatoes, so one of my jars is very juice-heavy; I might just make tomato paste or something out of it, I don’t know.  Place lids on, screw rings on lightly (“finger-tight,” is what they say), and process for 45 minutes in a hot water bath.

(And as usual–please do your homework on safe canning procedures–pickyourown.org is a good site, and I have listed a bunch of others at The Green Phone Booth. I am not a nutritionist, a doctor, or even a proper foodie, and I don’t even pretend to play one on the Internet. Consider this the disclaimer.)

I also, by the way, didn’t want to dispose of all that lovely tomato juice–I strained the seeds out (and it’s unbelievable how many seeds I did successfully get out of those tomatoes!), boiled it down a bit so it was less watery, and ended up with about a quart and a half of nice, fresh-tasting tomato juice.  If you like tomatoes but don’t think you like tomato juice, give this stuff a try–it tastes simply like fresh tomatoes, and comparing it to anything I’ve gotten out of a bottle at the store is like comparing fresh summer peaches to the canned “cling peaches in heavy syrup” ones you get in the canned fruit aisle. I didn’t do the “proper” canning procedure with it, just the highly suspect “open kettle” method we’re not supposed to use any more, because I plan to drink it all within the next week or so anyway. (See the Food In Jars blog for other things not to do when you’re canning, and other handy Canning 101 tips!)

Made chili with one quart, just to see how they did: delicious.  Very very good.

Only weird thing, probably because I didn’t cook them down enough beforehand–in the couple of days after sealing, the “head space” has increased quite a bit; they aren’t even close to full now. I’m assuming the tomato stuff just sort of broke down, and the air trapped inside the tomatoes is no longer inside but outside them, which means they won’t keep as long in the jars; I should have simmered them longer…(That’s okay–the way I use tomatoes, I’ll be lucky if they make it to November). Also, I was victim of the apparently very common issue of the water separating from the pulp, which mean I had an inch of sort of unattractive yellowish water at the bottom and the tomatoes at the top; it’s not a big deal, according to the sites I checked, and once I shook them up again after the jars cooled it hasn’t re-separated.

This was easy enough and tasty enough that I would do it again and probably will next year, maybe going for a full bushel (14 quarts in the end) instead of this year’s half bushel (7 quarts)–my canner holds seven quarts at a time, so that would basically be two full batches, probably more like 3-4 hours total.

Yes, I CAN! (my first boiling water canning bath)

Today I was seriously productive. 

For starters, upstairs in the smaller of my two crockpots there’s a big pot of chicken noodle soup with mushrooms and vegetables.  And there’s a fresh baguette to go with it. 

Simultaneously, I filled the bigger crockpot with apple slices and spices and brown sugar, and turned it into applesauce over the course of a few low-maintenance hours.  Last month we visited the apple orchard and I brought home half a bushel of nice cheap “windfall” (i.e. heinously ugly) apples, just waiting for a day when I’d be home to transform them into spicy autumny goodness. My kids helped core and slice the apples with our cool little corer-peeler-slicer, and the crockpot did most of the rest of the work. (My “recipe”–which hardly even qualifies as a recipe, it’s so simple–is posted over at the Green Phone Booth.)

applesauceAfter taking a much-needed lunch break to watch a Criminal Minds rerun and drool over Thomas Gibson a little bit (sigh…), I dragged my daughter out to the store to get some mason jars.  I was a little surprised the grocery store didn’t have any at all, but the hardware store did, so we were good to go.  By the time we got back, the applesauce was done.   I washed and sterilized the jars and lids, filled ‘em up, boiled them in the water bath, and took them out to cool.  I used a combination of this website and my birthday book Preserving the Harvestthe book had really good general instructions, and the website was applesauce-specific, so between the two of them I was all set.  And now I have preserved applesauce. I am very proud of myself.  (And disappointed that my giant-packed crockpot made only a total of 2 quarts–i.e. 4 pints–of applesauce.  Well, a little more, because the kids and I had some for a snack after school before actually canning it…) It was much less work than I thought it would be, even with my substandard supplies. I had only a big pot to boil things in, and I had to use a spatula and oven mitt to transfer things in and out of the boiling water, but it worked just fine.  I think I had always before felt threatened by the whole process and never wanted to Go There unless I had a giant amount of stuff to can (my whole cooking in quantity thing), but just doing this small project was pretty easy.  Next time I’ll just fill both crocks with apples and make twice as much applesauce, and can them in quart jars. (Except that I’ll need a taller pot to boil them in, because the tallest one I have is barely high enough to manage pints.)

Now upstairs the crockpot is in action again, this time hopefully to result in a bunch of holiday gift half pints of apple crockpot applesbutter for teachers and stuff.  I had to stuff it much fuller than I normally would, because I’d already sliced the rest of the half bushel of apples and honestly have nothing else to do with them–so I filled it once, let it cook on high for about an hour, and then mushed down what was there enough to get the rest of the apples in.   This will quietly cook all night, and in the morning I’ll attack it with the immersion blender.  And if there’s any leftover baguette come morning, it would probably be divine with a little fresh hot apple butter.  Or maybe we’ll eat oatmeal…

This planning a meal around a condiment is a fairly new thing for me, but I like it.

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